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Bailly's prolonged absence underlines Man United's injury woes this season

Bailly's prolonged absence underlines Man United's injury woes this season

ESPN

Can Manchester City go the entire Premier League season unbeaten? 

Tottenham are the latest team to try and stop the Pep Guardiola juggernaut as they travel to the Etihad for Saturday's late kickoff. Guardiola's men could open up a 14 point lead at the top with a win, having set the record for consecutive Premier League victories (15) after beating Swansea 4-0 in midweek.

Will Mauricio Pochettino's side claim a surprise win? Predict that and the rest of the matches in our polls.

Manchester United travel to West Brom on Sunday as they look to keep up their fading pursuit of the league leaders while Chelsea host Southampton on Saturday and Newcastle are at Arsenal. 

Liverpool face Bournemouth and high flying Burnley are at Brighton, as they hope to remain on the coattails of the top four.

How will the games go? Vote in the polls and have your say in the comments.

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

When Manchester City fans first saw Bernardo Silva, he pulled the strings for an hour in what would turn out to be a 5-3 defeat for his Monaco side at the Etihad in last season's Champions League. It was an impressive display from a player on the losing team, and one that made the home supporters sit up and take notice.

While City weren't in desperate need for yet another creative midfielder last summer, few complained that Pep Guardiola made the Portuguese playmaker his first signing ahead of the new season. The manager splashed out £43million for the Monaco star's services, despite there being more pressing issues in defence that needed addressing.

The paperwork was completed in May, before the season had even finished, and the midfielder joined as soon as the summer window opened. Yet nearly four months into the campaign, Silva has barely featured and is nowhere near the form he was showing when he helped Monaco lift the Ligue 1 title last term.

He has one goal to his name -- he netted the seventh in City's 7-2 victory over Stoke in October -- and has made just nine starts in 23 appearances for his new club. His contributions have mainly been from the bench, coming on in the final 15 minutes of games that are generally already won.

Given the chance to start in League Cup matches or in rotated City sides, he's not really found his feet. Another chance went begging for him when he couldn't seem to impose himself in the team of fringe players that lost 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk on Wednesday.

Guardiola disagrees with the assessment that Silva isn't ready, insisting that the only reason the Portugal international isn't being used more regularly is that he can't drop those who already have starting berths. However, anyone who's watched City a lot this season will have seen Silva not really hitting the right notes when he's on the field.

That isn't to say Silva won't be a star at the Etihad. He's only 23 and is trying to force his way into one of the best attacking lineups in Europe. The home supporters need to give him the time he needs to settle for his new club and not expect him to light up the pitch every time he's got the ball at his feet.

There is precedent that Silva can take heart from, too. He'll know as much as anyone that he's not been able to get as involved as he would have liked so far this season, but with patience there will be room for him in one of the attacking midfielder roles.

He's a similar style of a player to David Silva, and the Spaniard took a while to get into his stride in Manchester. Of course, he wasn't faced with the weight of expectation Bernardo Silva is -- but it was still a very slow start from a player that would go on to be one of the leading stars of his era.

Former City assistant manager David Platt recently revealed that he thought David Silva would "never make a Premier League player" because of the impression he gave when he first signed for Roberto Mancini's team in 2010.

Platt thought the Spaniard looked too slight and believed tough defenders would be able to knock him around too easily. Seven years on, the midfielder is still the heartbeat of City's creativity as he approaches his 32nd birthday.

It all clicked into place for the playmaker in City's 2-0 Europa League win over Red Bull Salzburg in 2010. He scored the opener and began to look settled. A matter of weeks later, he planted a brilliant goal into the corner of Matt Gilks' net, after skipping past three challenges inside the box, as City beat Blackpool 3-2 at Bloomfield Road -- and after that he never looked back.

Up to that point, and like his Portuguese namesake this season, Silva had been a bit-part player.

With time to adapt to life in England, the Bernardo Silva should be able to take the Premier League by storm. There have only been glimpses of his ability so far and it's left supporters nervous that he'll never make the grade at the Etihad. However, it was the same story when David Silva joined seven years ago -- and a slow introduction to the first team worked perfectly for him.

Bernardo Silva needs to get more minutes in the side when it's nearer to full strength, instead of being expected to shine in a starting line-up of fringe players and academy graduates. Players develop at different rates -- Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane both took time to get going at City, while Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero hit the ground running.

City fans need to make sure they don't write off Bernardo Silva before he's been given the opportunity to show what he can do.

David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney

Borussia Monchengladbach are keen on a permanent deal for West Ham defender Reece Oxford, who made his first start for the Bundesliga club in this week's 1-0 defeat at Freiburg.

Oxford, 19 this Saturday, made only his second appearance for Gladbach on Tuesday, but sporting director Max Eberl said on Thursday that he has developed well since arriving on a season-long loan in the summer.

Having joined the Bundesliga side as a possible successor for Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen, Oxford previously made just one brief appearance as a last-minute substitute in a 3-1 win against Hoffenheim in late October.

But following his first full 90 minutes for Gladbach on Tuesday, Eberl has now said that they held "exploratory talks" with West Ham over a permanent deal for the defender.

"Reece has made a real development, even though he only now played one full match," Eberl told reporters on Thursday. "He's done a solid job in a difficult situation." 

When Oxford failed to break into the Gladbach squad earlier this season, a source told ESPN FC that West Ham considered recalling the defender early this winter, but Eberl said that this idea now is off the table.

"We want to at least keep him until the end of the season because West Ham could recall him after he failed to make the required appearances," Eberl said. "On top of that we have asked if it's possible to sign him on a permanent transfer, but that's early stages -- we are in exploratory talks."

Referencing the current situation in German politics, where parties have so far been unable to agree on a new government following the general election in September, he added: "Hopefully they won't last as long as in politics."

Stephan Uersfeld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld.

Jose Mourinho has revealed this week that Eric Bailly's ankle injury is more serious than the club first thought and can't predict when the defender will be back in the team.

After being without his best player, Paul Pogba, for two months, this long-term injury to another key member of the squad is a huge blow to Mourinho and Manchester United. The manager loves to find an excuse for his failings but it would be unfair not to acknowledge that United have been unfortunate when it's come to injuries this season.

Rivals Manchester City have had their most important players, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, fit for every Premier League game this season, while Pogba has missed morethan half United's league matches. Mourinho's back line has been hit with injuries throughout the course of the season too, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, the latter in particular, again proving they're made out of glass. But the repeated injuries to Bailly have been the most damaging.

The Ivorian may have an unconventional approach to defending, often winning the ball with his body contorted in to the most unusual of positions, but he has quickly proven to be a fan favourite thanks to his no-nonsense style.

United have been desperate to replace Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand for a few years and Bailly has come the closest to looking like a defender capable of reaching their level. Still only 23, he is years away from his peak and looks set to have a great future ahead too, but his troubling fitness is a concern.

Bailly was injured on six different occasions last season, missing United's games against City in the cup, Arsenal away, Liverpool at home, among many others, as a result. This season, he has played in just 10 of United's 26 games in all competitions, and could now be facing ankle surgery that would see him ruled out for some time yet.

His last appearance was more than a month ago after returning from international duty with the injury. He has played in a couple of matches since, with Mourinho revealing the player has been receiving some conservative treatment, but with that not having the desired effect, it looks as though surgery might be the last option.

With David De Gea having such a fantastic season, the loss of Bailly isn't as damaging as it could be, but it does mean that United will have been without their best defender for most of the season.

United have conceded just four goals in the 10 games he's played. The fact that Marcos Rojo, United's second best defender of last season after Bailly, didn't play a single game until the end of November, and is still being eased back in, has only compounded United's frustrations at the back. The Argentinian went off with an injury at half-time against City and was missing from the squad for their midweek win over Bournemouth.

All teams suffer injuries and that is where squads come in to play, but it's hard to get away from the fact that United have struggled more than many, and certainly more than the only team above them in the league.

Over this busy festive period, where United will play six games in a fortnight, they really could have done without this latest Bailly news.

They will now have to hope that Jones, Smalling and Victor Lindelof can stay fit for the next few weeks, with Rojo's return date yet to be set. Yet fatigue could become a problem, with Smalling having already played 90 minutes for the past 17 consecutive games. That works out at a full game every four days, which isn't ideal preparation for this busy run-in.

Like Mourinho has begun to trust academy graduate Scott McTominay with more playing time, with him starting against Bournemouth midweek, supporters will be hoping that Axel Tuanzebe is afforded the same chance in some of the easier fixtures.

But if Rojo doesn't return soon and one of the other defenders gets injured, Mourinho may have little choice but to dip in to the reserves.

Bailly will be a big miss and now it's up to the other defenders, and De Gea, to ensure United hold on to the best defensive record in the league. It won't be easy though.

Scott is one of ESPN FC's Manchester United bloggers. Follow him on Twitter: @R_o_M.

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